I’m venturing out of my comfort zone and my ramblings about food and places to eat to share something a bit more personal with you. I am stepping into the unchartered territory – or at least for me – of pure #MumLife stuff!
See, I’m Mum to PJ, a seventeen-month-old baby or toddler – call her what you will, I sometimes opt for ‘wild animal’. And I remember, back when she was a tiddly baby, having one arm trapped under her, the other holding her bottle and I’d precariously balance my phone so at least I could scroll through social media and have some contact with the adult world. It seemed that every other post was from yet another parent telling me (and the rest of the world) what a joy parenthood was.
Was there something wrong with me? I just didn’t get it. Did other people enjoy the constant feeding? Barely getting any sleep? It certainly wasn’t my idea of fun to be repeatedly changing her clothes – and mine, talking to someone who couldn’t talk back, having to pack the entire contents of the house every time I wanted to walk out the front door, eating one-handed (that was a big no-no for me), and worst of all…filling my days with baby groups and making idle chit-chat with people I felt were far too mumsy for someone like me to talk to, let alone consider being friends with. In fact, looking back at the early days (which I count as almost the whole of maternity leave), there really wasn’t much I enjoyed about being a mum – and I’m not afraid to say it.
Some people are good at tennis, others good at baking (yep, over here), some people love being around others, whereas some prefer their own company, some are organised, some disorganised, some like films, some like music, some like silence, some people like travelling and some people are home birds. We are all different, and yet, it is assumed (or at least that’s the way it seemed to me) that everyone will (and should) enjoy motherhood. But being a Mum is something you do, just like everything else on that list. Some people love it, others loathe it, most find it hard, and a few find it easy. We are all different.
Allow me, if you will, to explain some of the things I felt back then…
Well first of all, so many people talked about this gush of love that comes when you have a baby, but I didn’t get that. My love for PJ has been a love that has grown steadily from the moment I found out I was pregnant, and it continues to grow to this day, and I suspect it will just get stronger and stronger with every day that passes. But on the 5th August 2017, when she burst into this world and the midwives plonked her on my chest, I felt more overwhelmed, exhausted, in pain and traumatised than anything else. In those first few weeks, my love grew but very slowly indeed, I quite simply didn’t have the time or energy to make room for love. I was just surviving. Now, the girl makes my heart melt, burst and hurt with the amount of love I have for her, but it certainly didn’t come all at once as so many people say.
From the off, I always craved me-time, not just craved, but I genuinely needed it for my own sanity. Within the first few days I had handed PJ over many a time for a stolen hour or so on my own (usually in the shower or in bed). I never felt a need to be with her all the time, or even lots of the time; I was very happy to share the load and accept help from others. I have friends who can’t bear to be away from their little ones, and whilst I can’t understand that at all, I accept that they are just very different to me.
See, I am quite a strong personality – Marmite some might say. Some like me, others I am sure, hate me, but what I do have is a very real need to be a person in my own right. I didn’t like references like ‘PJ’s mum’ or ‘just a mum’. I am Roseann. Yes, I am a mum to PJ, but I’m also me. We are two separate people and neither of us are defined by each other. She is as much her own person as I am. The chit-chat between mums at baby groups stripped me bare of my identity, and what made me sad was that it looked like everyone else was happy to be ‘just a mum’. But of course, we all know, there is nothing ‘just’ about being a mum, it’s so much more and it’s the hardest job in the world. So let’s open up the dialogue a bit more, and talk to each other like adults, and not like shadows of our children.
Bitterness was one of the biggest issues I had during maternity leave, usually towards my husband. Why was it all left to me? Why was he able to escape to work? Why was I sleep deprived and he wasn’t? Why was he allowed to take a shit on his own? Yep – that was a very real argument we often had. Why? Why? Why? I grew so bitter towards him, that I could barely speak to him most of the time, and when I did, it came out all wrong. I felt so angry that we had both made the decision to have a baby and yet I was the one who had been left with all the hard work – the ‘default parent’ we called it.
I would cry on a near daily basis. The midwife warned me of the baby blues which would appear on day 5. On day 6 when I was still smiling, I felt very smug, day 7 even more so, but on day 8 I woke up with awful mastitis, swollen glands, it was my husband’s birthday, one of my best friend’s weddings (we had to miss it), and I cried from dawn to dusk, and then nearly every day after that until at least two months. The days were long and the nights were too short, I could never get enough sleep. I dragged my sorry arse and my still-hurting lady bits out of bed to do bottle after bottle. Some people say that they don’t mind the night feeds because it means cuddle time, one-on-one and plus their cute face would apparently take the hardship away – it didn’t for me. I found it so so hard, and even with the cutest baby in the world, it didn’t make it one jot easier.
Everyone talks about postnatal depression, and I kept asking myself the question – was I? No, this most definitely was not postnatal depression. I always knew that, there wasn’t any doubt about it. Put simply, depression is about something inside the body, whereas being unhappy is usually something outside – a situation. I found myself in a situation that didn’t make me happy, I couldn’t change it, it felt never-ending and I had no choice but to just carry on.
So there you go, I’ve bared all. But what’s the point in me telling you all of this unless I can pass on something helpful as well as a good old moan? With that in mind, I’ve put some tips together for people who might find themselves with similar feelings to what I’ve shared here:
- You are NOT alone. It does change, it does get better and it does get (a little) easier. Just don’t be afraid to open-up to people. Talk to those other mums. Properly talk; not about night feeds, not about other baby groups, not about what school you might choose in ten years’ time, but talk about you as a person, how it’s changed your life and how you feel about it, because I bet so many people can relate to this – in some way – if not all the ways. And hey, if they can’t relate, don’t worry; it doesn’t make you a lesser person, it makes you a different person.
- Recognise and accept that everyone is different – in life, in work, as parents, as partners, as friends. We are all different and that’s okay.
- Children change on a daily basis, which means so does the way you parent. Don’t like it today? You might like it tomorrow. Having a tantrum this hour? The next hour they might be sweetness and light. Don’t like babies? What about toddlers? How about the school years? A teenager? A young man or woman? A twenty-something, thirty-something? Parenting isn’t the same – this phase will pass.
- Not enjoying certain aspects or phases of being a mum does NOT affect your ability to love your child and be the best mum you can be.
- Share the load with your partner. Parenting is hard, work is far easier. It is well known that people go to work for a rest from family life, so when they are home, get them to do their fair share. Dish out the night feeds, take it in turns to have me-time and get them to do their bit of the housework too.
- When people offer help, accept it. When people don’t offer help, ask for it. Want a shower? Get a friend to come and sit round for an hour whilst you have one. If the midwives offer help in the hospital in those first few hours, bite their hands off – we wish we had! If someone wants a cuddle, then hand that baby over sharpish and enjoy being hands-free.
- Maintain your identity by carving out time to do what makes you you, whether it be reading, seeing friends, going for coffee and cake, exercise, films, craft, or baking. Do it. Make time for it. It’s just as important to look after you – physically and mentally – as well as look after your baby.
I’ve waited a long time to write this post because I know so many people don’t feel the same way as I do, but also because people might think I don’t appreciate all I have. I do. I’ve done a lot of mulling my thoughts over, a lot of processing and a lot of soul-searching to realise that it’s fine to feel the way I felt (and sometimes still do). It’s just me being me. Who knows, perhaps when PJ is a teenager and I have friends who are tearing their hair out, I’ll be breezing on through, but I won’t speak too soon in case PJ is anything like I was as a teenager! I know we are very lucky indeed to be parents and to be parents to someone as full of character as PJ. I love PJ with all my heart, I’m just not a baby person, that’s all. Plain and simple. We are all different after all.
A Guest Blog from Roseann Thompson
I’m Roseann, the competent eater, amateur foodie, untrained writer, rookie photographer, nagging wife and knackered mum behind Honeybourne Line, my little corner of the internet where I talk way too much about FOOD.
I’m definitely no expert on food; I don’t know my silverside from my topside, nor my jus from my gravy. But I do know that food is capable of fuelling our bodies, making the soul sing, bringing people together, and providing great comfort.
There’s so much more to a meal than the sum of its parts. It’s about the process, the company, the surroundings, the occasion and the conversation. It’s about the mess, the smiles, the laughter. It’s a shared experience, or even a stolen moment of peace.